There has long been a question in the NHL as to who was the best player in the game. Was it Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, or Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals? The correct answer, of course, is Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings.
Datsyuk has proven over the last five years that he is the best player in the game, and not simply for his 95 overall rating in the upcoming release of NHL 13. He may not be the best scorer, or defender, or skater, but there is nobody in the NHL who can match him when all attributes are combined. People say that Crosby can, until he missed more than a season due to injury. Ovechkin took over some of that mantle, but his playoff inabilites have been his downfall.
Datsyuk was born on July 20, 1978 in what was then known as Sverdlovsk, USSR (now known as Yekaterinburg, Russia). His professional hockey career began in Russia playing for the Yakaterinburg Dynamo, and that was because he was too small to play in the NHL. Too small? Yeah, right. Datsyuk went undrafted in both the 1996 and 1997 NHL Entry Drafts, before finally being taken by the Red Wings in the 6th round of the 1998 installment.
Maybe it was the perfect situation, or maybe he is just that good. When Pavel came over to the States, the Red Wings were absolutely loaded with veteren players, a perfect opportunity for Datsyuk to learn and grow. Guys like Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and fellow Russian Igor Larionov were able to pave the way. Datsyuk managed 35 points in his rookie season, but it was obvious that his size wasn’t an issue, and that he was going to be one heck of a player. Maybe it was the veteren leadership, maybe it was hoisting the Stanley Cup as a rookie, or maybe he is simply that good. Henrik Zetterberg came over from Sweden the following season, and one of the best tandems in the NHL was born.
Datsyuk’s trophy case has become rather full over the last decade. Three times he has won the Selke trophy awarded to the best defensive forward. He has been given the Lady Bing Memorial Trophy four times for his sportsmanship on top of his incredible performance. He was a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP following the 2008-2009 season, and has hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup twice.
The two names listed above may sell more jerseys, but there isn’t anyone in the NHL that I would trade Pavel Datsyuk for. Just when you think you’ve seen it all from #13, he does something even more ridiculous. I’ve lost track of the texts I’ve received from friends asking me if I’m convinced Datsyuk is actually human.
I’m not entirely convinced either way.